With the Dominican Republic reporting its first cholera death this January, and with 235 cases reported in the country so far since the outbreak of this potentially fatal disease in neighbouring Haiti, Canadians planning winter trips to the DR need to be prepared. Cholera kills—quickly. Don’t change your plans, but be careful.
Just this January, more than 20 Venezuelan tourists to DR resorts contracted cholera and were put into quarantine in Caracas after showing symptoms of this disease, which to date has killed almost 4,000 people in Haiti. Since the cholera outbreak in Haiti last fall, DR authorities have put up strict border controls to prevent the spread of this disease into their country—but with thousands of Haitians fleeing the unrest in their own country every week, the threat is only expected to grow.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, visitors to the DR should drink only safe bottled water (emphasis on safe) and boil or treat water used for food preparation or brushing teeth. And remember that ice cubes in those exotic drinks are usually made with tap water, and that freezing does not kill the bacteria that might kill you. If you’re going to drink that great rum, drink it neat, or top it up with liquids that come out of a bottle. Also, you must wash your hands with soap, often and well. And if you have a kitchenette and you’re doing your own cooking, be especially careful to keep your food covered and hot, and cook it well—especially seafood. And eat only fruits and vegetables you can peel. Most resorts are taking measures to upgrade hygiene and food and drink preparation, but you can’t leave responsibility for your health and safety to somebody else.
Cholera is an acute, diarrheal illness caused by infection of the intestine. An estimated 3 to 5 million cases and over 100,000 deaths occur each year around the world. The infection is often mild or without symptoms, but can sometimes be severe. Approximately five per cent of infected persons will have severe symptoms, characterized by profuse watery diarrhea, vomiting, and leg cramps. In these people, rapid loss of body fluids leads to dehydration and shock. If you start having any of these symptoms, get professional help immediately—from health professionals, not hotel clerks or bartenders.
Without treatment, death can occur within hours, so if you have any of these symptoms, you must get to an approved clinic or hospital right away. This is where travel insurance becomes essential, because your emergency assistance service can direct you to the nearest, most appropriate clinic or hospital and get you into treatment fast. Normally, with appropriate rehydration and antibiotics, you should recover quickly. But without it, you could die in a matter of just a few hours.